The Phoenix Suns complete a grand slam of elite opponents on a star-studded homestand Wednesday night when they host what could be a travel-weary Philadelphia 76ers club.
The 76ers (24-14) will be playing their second road game in two nights at the end of a five-game, coast-to-coast trip. However, they will be riding the momentum of a 119-113 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
The win was Philadelphia's second on a trip that began with an overtime loss at Boston on Christmas Day. The Sixers subsequently won at Utah before losing at Portland.
In the meantime, the Suns (9-29) dealt with a three-game stretch that proved to be as daunting as it appeared on paper.
In the wake of a five-game trip of their own that featured three wins, including one at Boston, the Suns have dropped consecutive home contests against Western powers Oklahoma City, Denver and Golden State.
After dealing with the 76ers, one of the East's top teams, the remainder of the Suns' seven-game homestand appears much more reasonable, with the Clippers, Charlotte and Sacramento slated to visit.
The Warriors walked away impressed with what they called a vastly improved Phoenix club after beating the Suns 132-109 on Monday. The two-time defending champs had seen Phoenix earlier in the season before the Suns made a trade for Kelly Oubre Jr. last month.
The kind words might have helped the Suns hold their heads up after a third straight loss, but Oubre said his new team isn't willing to settle for moral victories despite being saddled with the worst record in the Western Conference.
"We just have to keep getting better," he told reporters after the Golden State game. "That's what it's about right now. We can't set goals that are very far-fetched. We can definitely dream big, but we just got to continue to get better. Continue to be professionals, come in every day and work hard and everything else will fall in our favor."
The Suns aren't sure if they'll be facing the 76ers with or without star center Joel Embiid.
The young standout had double-doubles in the first two games of the 76ers' trip, enduring a total of 73 minutes, before getting a night off Sunday at Portland because of a sore left knee.
Embiid got the green light in Los Angeles after a pain-free pregame warm-up, but he will have to go through a similar experience before the Wednesday game in order to play in the trip finale.
The 76ers don't play again until Saturday at home against Dallas.
Embiid and Suns rookie big man Deandre Ayton had an impressive first NBA head-to-head when the 76ers struggled to outlast the Suns 119-114 at home in November.
Ayton went for 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and he grabbed nine rebounds, but he was outplayed by Embiid, who posted a 33-point, 17-rebound double-double.
Sore knee or no sore knee, Embiid appeared to be in midseason form against the Clippers, recording 28 points and 19 rebounds in 35 minutes, defending himself in a scuffle with Patrick Beverley and limiting Los Angeles starting center Marcin Gortat to one field goal in 22 minutes. Embiid also blocked three shots.
As great as Embiid has been on offense and on the boards, 76ers coach Brett Brown believes the 7-footer shines brightest as a defender.
"I've said it many times, and I'll say it again: He is the Defensive Player of the Year," Brown said earlier on the trip. "His impact on this team is overwhelming."
The earlier meeting in Philadelphia also featured a big-number duel of guards Ben Simmons, who missed a triple-double by one assist, and the Suns' Devin Booker, who produced 37 points and eight assists.
Last season, Booker averaged 39 points in two games against the 76ers.
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